Skip to main content

Full text of "The Gay Genius"

See other formats


candies and toys and rotating lanterns. The candy sellers of Hangchow
in Sung times resorted to strange advertising tactics to attract the atten-
tion of the public. There were candy sellers who sold their wares on the
roulette principle, others who dressed as white-bearded old men, and
those who wore masks and danced and sang. Some sold candy floss,
some blew candies into shapes of different animals, and some made
"sand sugar", which is like maple candy. There is a book about the
city life of Hangchow written at the end of the Sung dynasty about a
hundred years after Su Tungpo and a hundred years before Marco Polo
visited it, giving fascinating details of the streets, canals, the lake, the
foodstuffs and popular amusements, and providing a more detailed
picture of the city life of those times than is made in Marco Polo's
description of the city. While Marco Polo mentioned the hunting of
princes and the bathing of princesses on the lake shore and the great
merchant fleets that plied between Hangchow ("Kinsai") and Chuan-
chow ("Zayton"), he was not familiar with the, names of die sweet-
meats, fancy bakery, and popular amusements. The long and almost
old-womanish lists of fancy delicatessen food recounted again and
again on the pages of this book by Wu Tsemu can drive any reader

Su Tungpo half believed that he had lived here in his previous
incarnation. This is recorded in his own poems and in the journals of
.^contemporaries. One day he was visiting the Shoushing Temple, and
the moment he entered the gate he felt the scene was very familiar. He
told his companions that he knew there were ninety-two steps leading
up to the Penance Hall, which they found to be correct. He could also
describe to his companions the buildings, court-yards, and trees and
rocks at the back of the temple. We do not have to believe these stories
of reincarnation, but when society believes in ghosts or in reincarnation,
there are always many such first-hand stories and, like ghost stories,
they cannot be conclusively proved or disproved. In Su Tungpo's time
the belief in a person's previous existence was general and such stories
were not uncommon. There was a story about the previous existence of
Chang Fangping. One day he was visiting a temple and told people
j|hat he remembered he had been abbot at this place in a previous life.
^Pointing upstairs, he said that he recalled being occupied in copying a
certain Buddhist classic in the attic, a work which was left unfinished.
He and his friends went upstairs and found indeed an unfinished
manuscript in a handwriting bearing a striking resemblance to Chang's
writing. He took up his brush and began to copy from where he was
supposed to have left off in'his previous life. There was also the story-
told of one of Su Tungpo's best friends. Huang Tingchien, the great
poet, told people that in his previous life he had been a girl He suffered
from body odour in one of his armpits. One night when he was